Oakland’s Chinatown Gets a Graffiti Makeover with 99 Dragons

The goal is to paint 99 big, beautiful, golden dragons across the buildings of Oakland's Chinatown.

Part beautification project, part community organizing, part youth service project, Dragon School brings together young people, business owners, and community members to reclaim Oakland’s Chinatown and to build community pride.

“When the first Chinese immigrants came to America, they were searching for the legendary ‘Gold Mountain’ where the streets are paved with gold,” founder Luqman Lin, a street artist also known as Doctor Dragon, told NBC News. “And now at last, Dragon School fulfills this dream.”

All painting is done with the permission of the merchants and in strict observance of street art etiquette.

“Dragon School has no enemies,” Lin said. “Dragon School students are taught to NEVER paint over anyone else's graffiti; instead we must wait until the building owner has buffed the wall first.”

The school also works with Fuming Guerilla Productions (FGP) to make sure that Chinatown is a part of Oakland’s contemporary urban art renaissance.

Unlike the feared fire-breathing dragons of western mythology, Chinese dragons do not harm people, but instead bring good fortune and spring rains. “The Chinatown community appreciates our spray-painted murals because the dragon symbolizes power, strength and good luck," said Lin.

Dragon School Principal and lead teacher Anderson Gin told NBC News that the students “are proud of the artwork they create. Having the students participate strengthens their ties to the community they live in and helps to keep the project going.”

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For students who might feel discouraged if one of the dragons they painted is defaced, the school reassures, “Defacing a dragon will curse your family for 18 generations. So if someone defaces your dragon, do NOT waste time being upset.”

Dragon School is currently fundraising for supplies to help students reach 99 dragons.